A ruby-crowned kinglet visits a branch along the Great March Trail in Beverly Shores. | Joan Dittmann~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 10, 2014 6:19AM
It seems rather unusual seeing a person walk down the road with binoculars around their neck, but then again this is spring, so it’s bird-migration time. And birds — along with bird watchers with binoculars, spotting scopes and tripods — are flocking to the dunes, the lakeshore, the marshes and surrounding woods and fields.
According to www.indianadunes.com, the website of Indiana Dunes Tourism, more than 350 bird species live in or migrate through this area. Summer resident birds are now getting established, while other species are stopping by to refuel on their way to points farther north.
That website makes the claim that the Indiana Dunes is one of the top birding spots in the Midwest, and offers a video with bird-watching tips from experts who also explain why our position on the tip of Lake Michigan makes this such a good location to view migrating birds.
The website also has links to a bird-watching guide and species checklist, a birding “hot spots” map and a daily sightings list.
Vireos, tanagers and warblers are among the birds you might see on a naturalist-led bird-migration hike starting at 8 a.m. Friday at Gibson Woods, 6201 Parrish Ave., Hammond. This park of more than 100 acres is a unique “undisturbed” nature preserve in the middle of a dense industrial and residential area that attracts birds by the cover and food it offers to help sustain them on their journey north. Call (219) 844-3188 to register for this free program.
Saturday is International Migratory Bird Day. Special birding events will take place across North America to raise awareness about birds and their habitats, and concern for threats to bird populations.
The Indiana Dunes State Park will participate by offering International Migratory Bird Day activities for early birds, night owls and those in between.
BYOB — bring your own binoculars — for a 1.5-mile birding hike along a quiet, easy trail starting from the nature center at 9:30 a.m. Come back to the nature center between 1:30 and 4 p.m. for a close-up look at the science of birding as banding nets are set up and local experts catch, band and release migrating birds.
There will also be bird-themed crafts and activities. Later, a hike to look and listen for birds of the night will start at 8 p.m. from the nature center.
These programs are free after the park gate fee of $5 per Indiana-plated vehicle. The Indiana Dunes State Park is located north of Interstate 94 on Indiana Highway 49 in Chesterton. Call the nature center at (219) 926-1390 for more information.
The resident bird expert at the Indiana Dunes State Park is park interpretive naturalist Brad Bumgardner. In addition to leading bird-watching hikes, Bumgardner coordinates and compiles the bird flight counts and blogs on the latest dunes birding news and posts statistics online at Indianadunesbirding.wordpress.com.
That site makes the astonishing claim that “south winds between May 5-10 can mean 1 million birds/hour entering the dunes area on a good migration night.” It touts the bird-viewing from Longshore Tower, the new and nearly complete viewing platform atop a 60-foot dune and offering great views of the adjacent dunes and blowouts and of the Lake Michigan shore. The tower is accessed from the west parking lot at the Indiana Dunes State Park.
On May 17, the Northwest Indiana Migratory Bird Association will hold its annual birdathon fundraiser. The group is seeking pledges for the number of species seen that day. All funds raised this year will go to support bird conservation at the Indiana Dunes State Park, including the dune bird counts and blog.
A record 157 species were spotted by the team participating in the 2013 birdathon. There is a link from the blog at indianadunesbirding.wordpress.com to the pledge form and additional information.